Five counties and eight cities in Florida have already lessened the punishment for the personal use of marijuana including Tampa, Miami and Orlando. Now, decriminalization could be on the horizon of the Suncoast and rest of the state.
Right now, possessing less than 20 grams of marijuana in Florida is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine. For more than 20 grams, it's a felony charge with five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
Lawmakers are now considering a bill that would lessen those criminal charges to civil charges. Possessing less than an ounce of marijuana would be a first degree misdemeanor with only a $100 fine or 15 hours of community service if you can't afford the fine. For minors, they'd be ordered to do 15 hours of community service, a drug awareness program or both.
Criminal defense attorney Derek byrd says he's defending more alleged marijuana users than you'd think.
"The biggest impact on the system would be the money savings," Byrd says. "Do you know how much money the system would save if they didn't have to arrest, jail, and prosecute people for non violent petty drug offense like marijuana? I think law enforcement would then also have the opportunity to concentrate on what most would consider more serious crimes or more serious drug crimes."
Byrd predicts in 5 years that marijuana will be decriminalized completely in Florida.
The state session ends on May 5th, so lawmakers have just two weeks to make a decision or likely wait until next year.